Wyborcza.pl En
Home | The Movies | Biography | Interviews | Stories | Reviews | Posters from the 80s | Posters from A. Ninja | Posters from the 90s | Posters from 2000s | Hot News | Photo Gallery | Contact Us

Wyborcza.pl – TRI-CITY

Sam Firstenberg: I always wanted to tell immersive stories

by Przemysław Gulda 11 June 2017

I am a journalist of one of the biggest daily papers in Poland. I got your e-mail address from the organizers of cult movies festival in Gdansk. I would like to ask you for a couple minutes of your time to answer for some questions. We would like to publish the interview with you before the festival. Hope it would be possible for you to answer. Best

1. How did it happen that you started to work as a director of action movies? Where did you get this idea for a career from?

In the beginning before directing my first action movie Revenge of the Ninja I graduated from two film schools first with a BA degree and the second time with an MA. I acquired theoretical knowledge, practical experience, and the understanding of the cinematic language. Back then I saw myself as a director who would make social dramas, serious type-movies. When I got the opportunity to direct Revenge of the Ninja I just saw it as a lucky break and a chance to enter the world of directing movies. In my wildest dreams I did not think that I would become a thriving director in the field of action flicks with so many of them to my credit.

I never considered myself an “Action Director.” This term, in my opinion, describes what is known as “second unit director.” The way I see it a film director is a story teller that uses cinematic elements to convey a story and that’s what I always considered myself to be. What I find the most exciting about action is that it takes you back to silent cinema. Action scenes are like mini-films with no dialogue. It's a cinematic challenge that I love. The script usually only outlines the action scenes in broad terms. I have to build the scene with the second unit director and the stunt coordinator and also with the effects guys. There are hundreds of logistical and technical problems that have to be resolved on the set. Action scenes are of course shot one piece at a time so it is the director's responsibility to make sure that when all the footage is put together, it makes sense and is compelling and exciting piece of cinema.

I grew up with mainly Hollywood type films some of them are full of action, and although I enjoyed action films I never thought it was something I will be doing one day.

2. You are famous for introducing ninjas to popular culture. What was the story behind that? What was most attractive for you in them?

The company that bought my first student film "One More Chance", Cannon Films, had just finished a movie called Enter the Ninja. They were looking for a director for a sequel and asked me if I would be interested to take on the project, to make an action movie. The truth is that I had never before heard the word "ninja" in my life, but being young and eager I did not want to pass on such an opportunity so I faked my way in by letting them think that I knew what it was all about. The script was ready and Menahem Golan, the director of the first Ninja movie, decided not to direct it himself but rather, to hire someone else to direct, and that someone else was me. Golan was willing to take a chance on me. He knew I could put a movie together; I had proven that I could construct a scene, shoot, and edit logically. The big question was whether I could handle action, could I tackle a fight sequence or a chase. Clearly I did not have experience in these areas, but when he asked if I could do it, with utmost confidence I gave a positive yes. I knew I was not going to let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away. Apparently my self confidence assured them so the deal was made and I was given the script and asked to start pre-production immediately.

After watching the original movie, reading two books on the subject, I was knowledgeable enough to get started. I was introduced then to Sho Kosugi, the star of the movie, and he took me under his wing, so to speak, and gave me an in-depth introduction into the subject. I then realized that all I had to do was to make a good action movie with a Ninja twist to it.

3. What was the hardest movie for you to make? What made it complicated?

The toughest movie I ever directed was AVENGING FORCE. It was a challenging production. There was a scene where we recreated in New Orleans the Mardi Gras parade. We had 3, 000 extras, 7 or 9 cameras, many assistant directors, so it was not easy to coordinate. Also, a lot of our action took place in the swamps of Louisiana, and for some crazy reason I insisted there would be rain, so we had rain machines. The whole cast and crew, including myself, were standing up to our knees in water and there were alligators and snakes around, and a rain machine dropping rain all over us. The actors and the stunt doubles were doing fight scenes in these conditions. We were there for days and days because a good twenty minutes of the movie is set in the swamps. When the real rain came, the tracks would fall into the mud. It was physically grueling. On top of all this, it was a one and a half hour drive from the hotel just to get to the swamp, so each day would be 3 hours sitting on a bus as well as a 12 hour shoot. Another difficult set up was one action sequence that takes place in a burning house, a hard goal to execute from performance and safety point of view.

What made this movie complicated were the script demands and my grand vision.

4. How do you feel about the nowadays cult status of your action movies?

It is actually amazing, I don’t believe it myself. Hundreds if not thousands of movies are made every year and within 35 years it is tens of thousands of flicks big and small, studio and independent, most of them are forgotten after a short wail. To be among the directors that even only some of their works survive this disappearance in the historical abyss of time is unbelievably satisfactory. I am actually elated to know that some of the movies I directed still resonant with people even today, I get a lot of fan emails, Facebook messages, and requests for interviews from all over the world and they all reflect that sentiment. Considering all of that I fill that I have done my job right, to tell exciting, compelling, and engaging stories using the cinematic language.

When I started I didn't know that I was going to become a filmmaker associated with action movies. 35 years later I can look back at my career and see that some of my movies brought excitement and enjoyment to millions of people around the world. I always thought I'd eventually graduate to Hollywood studio movies and $80 million budgets and five month shoots, but it didn't happen. I stayed in the low-budget sector and became synonymous with low-budget action movies, but yet I can see that I achieved what I set out to do in the beginning – I told stories that allowed millions of people, to be transported from their everyday reality to a fantasy world and I gave them a form of escapism. I am happy with my legacy. I am in a better place historically then some other directors, who have disappeared and aren't talked about anymore.

5. Do you often meet with your today’s fans? Do they react to your movies the same way the audiences reacted in the past?

Most of my contact with today’s fans happens through social media in the internet, I meet them face to face, in person, only in film festivals and occasionally by chance. I receive a lot of fan mail and requests for interviews and from the questions, the comments and the reactions I understand that there is a core of loyal fans that love those old movies and a cadre of new audiences that discover them for the first time and fined the exciting and entertaining. The reaction to the movies today is probably different from that of days when they just came out, after all action movies today look much different than the old ones but may be the “retro” look is what attract new audiences to the genera movies of the 1980s and 1990s.

All I wanted to convey to the fans of the movies I directed is my thanks to their dedication in keeping them alive and relevant, watched and adored even today some 30 years and more after being made. I directed these movies with one thing in mind, I wanted them to excite and entertain movie lovers and hopefully I succeeded.

6. What would you do in Gdansk during the festival? Will you be available for the fans of your movies? Would you like to watch your movies with them to see how they react?

In the Cult Film Festival in Gdansk, like in most other film festival, I will do an introduction to any one of the five movies I am associated with, that will be screened there. Ninja 3 the Domination, Breakdance 2 Electric Boogaloo, American Ninja number one and number two, and the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Untold Wild Story of Cannon Films. Before and after the screening I am available to meet with the audience answer questions and if they want to take photos and singe posters.

There is also one special event of organized meeting on June 12 at 17:30 in club B90 to discuss my career and low budget film making in Hollywood with whoever is interested.

I am always excited to meet and talk with movie lovers of all nationalities and ages and to watch movies with then, either the ones I directed or others. Experiencing the magic of many people going through the same transformation and experiencing the same emotions at the same time it a dark hall with images running on a screen is dear to me.

I am originally from Poland but I don’t remember my Polish almost at all. May be the mingling with the locals of Gdansk will re ignite my memories of the language.There are many more stories, photos, and anecdotes that your readers can reach in my website at www.samfirstenberg.com and in my Facebook page under my name. A book with lots of interviews with industry colleges regarding my career entitled “Stories from the Trenches” will be published soon

- Next Interview -

- Back to Interviews -